Arye Dery is unfit to serve as a cabinet minister. A criminal convicted repeatedly of corruption isn’t fit to hold any senior public office.
The Basic Law on the Government and the interpretation the High Court of Justice has given it to date accurately reflect this healthy approach. In 1993, the court ruled that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had to dismiss Dery, then a minister on behalf of the Shas party, because he had been indicted on serious charges. Rabin never dreamed of amending the Basic Law to overturn this ruling.
Since then, Dery has been convicted in three separate criminal cases. The first involved “personal” corruption, in which he took bribes while serving as interior minister. The second involved “public” corruption, in which he was convicted of breach of trust for ordering the ministry to fund organizations headed by his brother.
The Basic Law on the Government says that someone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and sentenced to prison time may not serve as a minister for seven years after he completes his sentence. Dery subsequently returned to the cabinet with the High Court’s permission, but it turned out that he hadn’t returned to the straight and narrow. Six years ago, a third criminal investigation was opened against him on suspicion of tax offenses. Due to the very slow progress of the case, then-Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit agreed to sign a lenient plea bargain with him. Under this agreement, Dery received a suspended prison sentence and a fine of 180,000 shekels ($53,000), after he admitted to having filed partial, misleading returns to the tax authorities.
To obtain this lenient deal, Dery agreed to resign permanently from the Knesset and from public life in general. Consequently, the prosecution decided not to ask the court to rule on whether his actions involved moral turpitude. This being so, if Dery seeks to become a minister now, the correct procedure would be to ask the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit, to decide whether the crimes of which Dery was convicted involved turpitude. But the emerging governing coalition is already threatening Amit, who is slated to become the next Supreme Court president. We can only hope he will withstand the pressure.
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In any case, Shas is planning to get around the obligation to apply to the elections committee chairman by amending the Basic Law on the Government to state that the seven-year ban on serving as a minister applies only to someone sentenced to prison. This would entail changing a Basic Law for personal reasons, and is thus unacceptable.
Yet even if this amendment passes, Dery still shouldn’t be appointed minister. His commitment to retire from public life requires him to be kept out of ministerial positions. And the most ridiculous decision of all is to let him become finance minister in another two years. What country would let a man convicted of deceiving the tax authorities become the person in charge of the tax authorities? If the High Court lends a hand to such an appointment, Israel will find itself in last place on the global corruption index.